Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Dread (2009)

There is no delight the equal of dread.

So begins the opening paragraph of a pivotal short story in the illustrious career of Clive Barker. From the myriad of tales presented in his ground-breaking collection Books of Blood, Dread stood out among others of the fold as a harrowing excursion into the nature of fear. 

Many years later we finally have a film adaptation from the anthology that has given rise to semi-successful outings over the years including Rawhead Rex, Candyman, Lord of Illusions, Book of Blood and The Midnight Meat Train. And it could not come at a more important time. With the expansion of the splatter-porn field now firmly entrenched in the scaffold of the genre, I feel the original architects of such tales deserve their voice to be heard before we become overly swamped in a mire of imitation and unsympathetic translations that lack metaphor. Although shocking in tone, Clive Barker’s tiny tale of Quaid and his philosophical relationship with the ‘Beast’ of fear is somewhat loftier than the usual horrors.    

Jackson Rathbone plays Stephen Grace, a University cinema student who becomes acquainted with Quaid – another individual like himself with a potent story from the past detailing horrific advents: Stephen does not drive a vehicle after his sibling died at the wheel, and Quaid is still reeling from being a child eyewitness to his parent’s dismemberment. Already, we are seeing things deviate from the original story – subtle changes at fist but still keeping with the overall milieu. Quaid then proposes research into people’s fears for their first thesis, and soon they are joined by fellow-student Cheryl to work with them documenting everything on camera. What follows is a character-driven descent into psychological terror with some gut-wrenching scenes.

Initially, I thought the restrained changes and in particular the casting of Shaun Evans as Quaid would hinder the build-up. This Quaid feels far too innocent and simple - gone is the dark charisma that made this expert manipulator so enticing. But as the narrative unfolds Evans begins to exhibit all the characteristics needed to flesh out the character. We then face the conundrums associated with re-playing our fears … that if we stare directly into the eyes of the Beast for long enough will we finally be granted revelation?

Writer/Director Anthony DiBlasi has worked recently on other Barker projects and the final product of this small-budget outing is ultimately as slick and unnerving as anything released by a major studio. The ambiance has been honored; the material given a kind of dark reverence that shows both an understanding of it tempered with the need for a clever rearrangement. While not containing the dark grandiosity of previous adaptations such as Lord of Illusions or perhaps Candyman, Dread still manages to find its own shadowy niche in the legendary resume of Clive Barker. 

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